Tucson asking Oracle & South 6th residents about Norte-Sur corridor plans
The city of Tucson is asking residents what they want to see in the Norte-Sur corridor, a plan that will guide transit and affordable housing near a 15-mile stretch of road between the Tucson Mall and International Airport.
The stretch runs from the Tohono Regional Transit Center near the mall south along Oracle Road and then South 6th Avenue, ending at the airport. It covers a mile-wide area that extends in both directions from those streets.
The Federal Transit Administration awarded the city of Tucson and South Tucson $950,000 in 2020 to create affordable housing in the transit corridor. The grant is also meant to prevent “loss and involuntary displacements of residents, businesses and cultural assets” during transit development, according to city documents.
The transit corridor, dubbed Tucson Norte-Sur by the city, is the centerpiece in Tucson’s equitable transit-oriented development, or eTOD, strategic plan, a name for development plans that’s been used in other cities like Chicago.
One of the goals of eTOD plan is talking to "vulnerable, underserved populations," including low-income and minority groups, immigrants, low or zero-vehicle households, people with disabilities and Limited English Proficiency communities, according to city documents. The Norte-Sur website has several other upcoming community input events listed.
Anyone can take the 20-question survey, which asks people if they work or travel to the area, what kind of housing they would want to see there and what concerns they have about the transit in the area.
The survey closes on Friday, May 13. The intention is “to help (the Department of Transportation and Mobility) understand how riding public transportation could be improved, what type of housing is needed, and what equity looks like in this project area. The information collected will assist DTM in learning the community’s overall vision for the Tucson Norte-Sur study area.”
Tucson Norte-Sur runs along or near bus routes that travel both north-south and east-west. About 126,000 residents live within the corridor’s boundaries, according to the city, and it accounts for about 15 percent of the city’s public transit service area.
The corridor also hosts 2,430 employers for a total of 57,000 employees along with 1,900 small businesses with fewer than 20 employees. Its transit routes give access to 15 areas where there’s a cluster of businesses from key industries like health care, finance, manufacturing, warehouse, aerospace and information technology.
Parts of the corridor also reach 17 different federal opportunity zones, which provide tax benefits to investors in those areas.
The route that goes from the mall to the airport “runs through areas of our city that have been historically under-invested,” city officials wrote. “With a particularly high concentration of low-income communities of color and mobility-vulnerable residents that face the greatest transportation barriers due to age, poverty, disability, lack of vehicle access and other factors.”
The Commission on Equitable Housing and Development, a community-led group, is leading the planning and input process that goes before the start of any actual development. The CEHD was created in summer 2020 to review plans for affordable housing, protecting barrios and involving landlords and developers in equitable housing goals, according to city documents.
The commission is made up of 18 members, including local government representatives such as Betty Villegas, executive director of the South Tucson Housing Authority, and Liz Morales, director of the Tucson's Housing and Community Development Department.
CEHD will recommend financial strategies and city policies, including zoning overlays and design guidelines. The city will also use them the help find vacant properties and land to purchase for future affordable housing and public spaces.
The city of Tucson wants to increase mixed-income housing and housing types (single-family, multi-family, apartments, etc.) in the area. The commission will also advise the city on how to improve walkability and connections to other forms of transportation along the transit corridor.
The transit corridor and affordable housing planning began last summer and is expected to run through winter 2023, when the city plans to adopt then implement an eTOD strategy and start making zone overlays. The CEHD is now in its second phase of planning, which means community engagement, data collection and research. By the end of the year, CEHD should be ready to summarize and publish its research and comments that came from the public.
The city is looking at the Sun Link Streetcar as a model for successful transit-oriented development. The four-mile streetcar line began operating in July 2016 and has brought in more than $3 billion in public and private investments to the area in and around its route as of 2020.
Bennito L. Kelty is TucsonSentinel.com’s IDEA reporter, focusing on Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access stories, and a Report for America corps member supported by readers like you.